Dhanurmasa or the month of Dhanu begins today. It also goes by the names Kodanda Mas, Karmuka Mas, Chapa Mas, etc., the words being synonyms of Dhanu, which means a bow. If you are wondering that there is no such month in any Indian calendar, you are partially right. Technically there is no such month except in the Malayalam calendar where is it called Dhanu maasam. But it is a period of about a month, from around 15-16 December to 14-15 January every year, during which, the Sun transits from Dhanu rashi to Makar rashi (Sagittarius to Capricorn), finally embarking on the journey towards the north (Uttarayana) on Sankranti. It is also called Dhanu sankramana for this reason.
Dhanurmasa falls in the ninth month of Margashirsha/Margazhi according to most Indian lunar calendars. The name Margashirsha has another significance. Marga means path and shirsha denotes both the head and a Higher Consciousness. So the month literally leads the devout seeker on the path to the Divine. In the Mahabharata Sri Krishna says, ‘मासानां मार्गशीर्षोहम्’ – I am Margashirsha among the months — elevating this month and consequently Dhanurmasa to a divine status. Dhanurmasa is therefore dedicated to seeking the Divine, when all Deities beginning with Sri Mahavishnu and Shiva are worshipped and celebrated in temples and homes. But specifically, it is a special month for Sri Krishna both in the north and the south. It is believed that any kind of devotional offering during this month has multifold benefits and begets the complete grace of the Divine.
There is another interesting angle to worshipping the Divine during this month, which has to do with the structures of the celestial and human day and night. A human year constitutes one day for the devas. So, the six months of Uttarayana is daytime for the devas and the six months of Dakshinayana is the night time. And Margashirsha (Dhanurmasa), being the last month of Dakshinayana falls in the ushah-kaala (the short period just before dawn) of the devas.
The time, roughly between 3 AM to 5 AM is also known as Brahma muhurtam, which is considered propitious for sadhanas, pujas, chanting of mantras and shlokas and engaging in activities like meditation. According to the celestial year of devas, Dhanumasa is their Brahma muhurtam and for humans the entire month is perfect to seek the Higher Consciousness.
At a physical level, this time of the year is the most pleasant and invigorating. The pre-dawn hours of this month especially are not only very sacred, but also beneficial to our health, since the ozone layer is believed to be closest to the earth during this period of the year. Also, the early morning air is free of pollutants and the atmosphere quiet and serene, which aid in spiritual sadhanas and prayers. Our ancient rishis certainly knew all such scientific facts, and so instituted the pre-dawn religious activities and rituals during Dhanurmasa! It is perhaps for this reason that they designated it as ‘shoonyamas’ or kharmas, so that all human celebrations and auspicious functions like gruhapravesh, weddings, starting of new businesses, etc., are avoided, the focus being only on worshipping the Divine.
It is common for the devout to visit temples and go around the streets singing bhajans (prabhat-pheris/nagarsankeertans). Not just Hindus, but also Sikhs have this tradition of going on prabhat-pheris during this month. Apart from chanting the verses composed by great saints on various Deities and singing bhajans, there are also other spiritual activities like religious discourses, harikathas, classical music concerts and dance recitals. It is a special month for music performances. The famous ‘Music Academy season’ of Chennai falls during this period too. The annual Thyagaraja Aradhana in Tiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur is also held during this month. It is an elevating sight to see famous musicians sit with novices and sing together — the overriding emotion being one of pure devotion and reverence to the great composer.
Though shorn of human celebrations there are many traditions and customs, giving ample opportunities for men and women to showcase their cultural and artistic abilities. One of them is the custom of making large rangolis in front of the house. This serves the dual purpose of artistic expression while breathing in the ozone-rich morning air. Come Dhanurmasa and neighbours competed with each other to make the largest rangoli in the street. The rangoli competition during the Mylapore Festival held in the month of Margazhi is very popular and draws large crowds.
As said earlier, this month being dedicated to the Divine, there are also festivals and Jayantis galore dedicated to various Deities. Some of them are: Gita Jayanti, Hanuman Jayanti (in South India), Kalabhairava Jayanti, Dattatreya Jayanti, Annapurna Jayanti, Vivaha Panchami (Seeta-Rama Kalyana) etc.
And then we have Vaikuntha Ekadashi — the most important Ekadashi of them all — also known by other names like Mokshada Ekadashi and Mukkoti Ekadashi. Arudra Darisanam, the big festival dedicated to Shiva, which celebrates the cosmic dance of Shiva in his Nataraja form is celebrated grandly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. (I will write on some important festivals and celebrations of Dhanumasa in upcoming posts.)
Tiruppavai, the devotional pasurams (verses) to Sri Mahavishnu, composed by Andal, and Tiruvembavai, composed by Manikkavasagar in praise of Lord Shiva, are sung in homes and temples in the early hours of the morning throughout the month. Both these devotional offerings by the said saints show us the path of spiritual awakening.
This is also the month when the annual Sabarimala yatra takes place and those observing the austerities prior and during the yatra visit as many kshetrams as they can cover on their way to Sabarimala – to reach there on Sankaranti and take the darshan of Makara Jyoti and Swami Ayyappa to end their yatra. Every temple is crowded with these devout yatris during this month.
There is so much more about this divine month that a blogpost won’t be enough to do justice to it. After reading it you might ask, ‘But where is the ozone-rich air in the heavily polluted cities, especially like Delhi and Mumbai?’ True that. But compared to the rest of the day, the pre-dawn air is still cleaner and those of us who sleep late, should make the effort to wake up earlier and at least engage in spiritual sadhanas — rituals, artistic pursuits, meditation or any such activities as we deem fit. The ultimate aim is to get strive to get closer to the Divine.